The evolution of personal audio

I have fond memories of my first personal stereo. I got it as a present from my parents in about 1985. It was a brick of a machine. I think it was a Sharp. It had a shoulder strap rather than a belt strap, and it was my faithful companion on my Thursday afternoon newspaper round. As I stalked down the streets, green plastic case full of newspapers on one shoulder, the walkman would rhythmically bang up against my other side.

Most of the time I would listen to the radio rather than tapes. From about 4 to 7 o’clock on I’d listen to to the Top 40 on Hilversum 3, followed by “De LP-Show”, which played cool album tracks that otherwise wouldn’t have got much airplay. There are a number of songs that bring back very vivid pictures of Voerendaal whenever I hear them: “Sign O The Times” by Prince, “Dance Little Sister” by Terence Trent D’Arby, “Ship Of Fools” by World Party, “Criticize” by Alexander O’Neal, and almost anything by Luther Vandross.

Wow…nostalgia trip.

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Email problems

Our email is toast again. Interestingly, though, giant rodents are helping to fix it. From Telewest’s incident status page comes this news:

“The new hardware and the mailstores have now been installed and performance tuned. The new E420RS boxes have been introduced. The result is that we have processed half the queue overnight as we are delivering at an increased rat.”

What does the rat do with all the mail that’s being delivered at it, though? I hope it doesn’t nibble any bits off of all the backlogged email.

Firewire is cool

For a couple of years now we’ve had an external USB drive enclosure. We bought it originally for our CD-writer, so that we could easily move it between our PCs. Unfortunately, burning CDs proved to be totally unreliable through the USB connection. So we put a spare hard disk in it instead, and used it for backups, and for shuttling large files to and fro. (We have a wireless network here at home, but sometimes it’s useful to be able to move large quantities of data between home and work, and a USB hard drive is really useful for that.)

The downside of USB is that it’s really quite slow. It’s fine if all you’re doing moving is a couple of megabytes, but anything beyond that gets kinda painful. Which is probably why I haven’t been using it for backups quite as often as I ought to.

But over the weekend I bought a Firewire hard disk enclosure on Ebay. Firewire is some 40 times faster than USB, and boy does it show. The unit arrived this morning. I stripped the 80GB disk out of the old USB enclosure, strapped it into the (sleek, shiny) Firewire enclosure, turned it on, and there it was. Windows XP has all the necessary drivers built in, and the disk appeared instantly. To check that it was working, I copied a 100MB file over to it…in just a few seconds. Wow.

The new enclosure is also much quieter than the old one, because it doesn’t have a fan built in to it, so there’s no problem with leaving the drive switched on all, or most of the time. Now all I need to do is get some backups scripts going… (If anyone can recommend a good, simple backup utility for Windows, I’d be most grateful.)

Oh, and one other thing: don’t even think about going to PC World (or Dixons) to buy a Firewire cable. The cheapest ones they have will set you back £20. Twenty quid. Do a search for “firewire cable” on Ebay, and grab one for under a fiver.

Diet, end of week 3

At the end of last week, when I came off Atkins, I was at about 71.5kg. After a week of calorie control (max 1500kCal per day) I seem to be somewhere between 71 and 71.5. That’s not bad. In the middle of the week I was hovering between 71.5 and 72, as my body was adjusting to having carbohydrates again, and I’d been resigned to the idea that going cold turkey would result in a net weight gain at the end of the week.

But…Carbs! Bread! Yay!

I can have weetabix for breakfast, a ham sandwich with yummy brown bread for lunch, a banana in the morning, an apple in the afternoon, and a pretty much normal dinner in the evening. I am so much happier with this than with Atkins. I feel in control of my weight, and of my diet now. With Atkins, I felt out of control. Even though I was sticking to the diet plan, I felt it was just my innate stubbornness that was stopping me from going off the rails and bingeing on baguettes and rice.

Now, I can look at a chocolate biscuit and think, okay, if I’m willing to give up my banana, and make sure that I have a slightly smaller portion at dinnertime, I can squeeze it in. That’s cool. I haven’t given in to chocolate yet, but I did have a jam donut at work on Friday. I’m losing weight and feeling good about it.

Not being able to eat two or three donuts is not a hardship. Not being able to eat bread was torture.

SAProxy update

SAProxy has successfully caught all fifteen pieces of spam that have arrived since I installed it on Friday, with no false positives. That’s good. What’s bad is that it has a habit of dying while I’m away from the computer.

My computer runs XP Pro unattached to a Windows domain, so that we can use the fast user-switching features. (Sometimes it’s faster for Abi to just log on to my computer and check her email rather than switching on her laptop.) What I’ve been finding is that when I come back to my session after being away for a couple of hours, whether another user session has taken place in that time or not, SAProxy will be gone, and I have to restart it.

I don’t know if it’s crashing or if it just figures that I don’t need it any more. It doesn’t leave behind any log files, nor does it write to the Windows Event log, so I just have no idea.

For the volume of spam I receive (low, by all accounts), I think it’s probably less annoying to just delete it when it arrives rather than to restart SAProxy whenever I resume a session. It should be running as a service rather than as a user program anyway. I reckon I’ll give it another chance when the product has matured a bit.

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SpamAssassin with SAProxy

I’m happy to say that spam isn’t usually too much of a problem for me. I get about half a dozen messages per day on my main sunpig address. That’s a manageable volume. Most spam is very easy to spot based on its sender and subject line, and hitting the “delete” key a handful of time just isn’t that much effort.

Nonetheless, it’s annoying that I have to. I try to be careful where I pass out my email address, and even though the sunpig web site features email links (click on my name at the bottom of each post, or on the page banner), they are obfuscated by some custom javascript. I don’t run around signing up for random mailing lists, or buying stuff from companies without opt-in/opt-out mail policies (although they’re not always worth the bits they’re encoded in).

This is where SAProxy comes in. SAProxy is built on SpamAssassin, which is generally regarded as one of the best spam filters around. I had looked at SpamAssassin last year, but I’d been put off by the fact that it ran under Unix (or Linux). And even while I was running Linux on my desktop last year, it seemed confusing and difficult to get set up effectively.

Not any more. SAProxy rolls up the SpamAssassin engine in a nice little package for Windows that sits between your email program and your mail server. Normally your mail client (Outlook, Mozilla Mail, etc.) contacts your mail server directly to download its mail. SAProxy adds a proxy layer into the mix: your mailer speaks to the proxy, and the proxy contacts your mail server. When your mail is downloaded, the proxy runs all of it through the SpamAssassin filters. If it finds any spam, it adds the text “*****SPAM*****” to the subject line of the message. Then all you have to do is tell your mailer to automatically shunt all messages with this text into a junk folder. Every now and then you can quickly run through this folder to make sure that it hasn’t accidentally tagged any non-spam, and bulk delete the rest.

It’s very easy to set up, and it works with most modern mail programs under Windows. I installed it yesterday, and so far it has successfully caught all seven spam messages I received since then. It’s a small sample, but it looks very promising.

Ultimately, I would prefer a server-based solution, because the spam still does get downloaded onto my own computer. If the volume of spam were to increase, this could become a problem. But until then, it’s nice to have a clean inbox again.

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